Most managers and human resource recruiters hire for appearance.

The keyword screening algorithms used to reduce the number of resumes to a manageable number have contributed to this. Managers and recruiters are not deliberately trying to do less than their best during the hiring process. But they are trapped by two fundamental facts about hiring.

First, when recruiting, people can do the things during  that they already know how to do.

Many managers, and most human resource recruiters, know very little about what it takes to perform in a high demanding or critical role. Even more importantly, even when managers have direct experience of such performance requirements because they have done something similar in the past, they may not understand that their experience may have been gained in one of the following 4 phases, while the current future performance requirements are for another. High performance roles in an organization at the Producer stage have very different requirements from the same role in an organization at the Builder stage, for instance.

Four Organizations Growth Stages

Four Organizations Growth Stages

rom Lou Adler,

Traditional recruiters are in an even worse position. They seldom have any direct experience of the job requirements in critical high-performance demand roles, regardless of where their organization is on this growth curve. They base what they know about the performance requirements on job descriptions and other such artifacts. These are almost always ‘past performance requirements, rather than future performance requirements’ oriented.

Given this, most hiring managers and human resource recruiters do what we all do – fall back on what WE DO know. Our experience in judging people comes from our general social experience. We evaluate people based on “how they look” and on “how they talk and behave” in face-to-face conversation situations. We use these skills during recruiting and hiring interviews. We may find what ‘appears’ to a good candidate. But that is not the same thing as finding a great future performer.

Just look the columns of words below the “Great Candidates” and “Great Hires” titles in the schematic above. Two people may have much the same resume, but totally different approaches to a role, depending on where they fit on these characteristics.

Second, most hiring is for ‘good enough’ candidates.

Despite all the public talk about hiring the best candidates, the walk reality is that most of the hiring that is done for established organizations is for ‘good fit’ candidate. Good fit candidates tend to have the “Great Candidates” characteristics.

The best predictor of future ‘good’ enough performance in a well-established role is past performance in a similar role. Keyword-based resume sorting algorithms do a good job for finding such long list candidates. Resume based interviewing techniques, including behavioral interviewing, which are all ‘past performance’ oriented, do a good enough job of sorting through these final candidates to a select few.

Recruiters select 3 or 4 such candidates and pass them on to a hiring manager. The hiring manager picks one, based on a set of ‘intangible’ fit parameters. As long as the role is well established, the chances are that the new hire will do a good enough job in the new role that no one will be upset by the candidate’s on-the-job performance.

Hiring for future performance, rather than ‘good enough fit.

Lou Adler calls his approach to getting around this – performance-based recruiting. He has been writing about it for years on LinkedIn. He has over a million followers. Clearly, what he is saying makes sense to a large part of the business population.

Lou Adler's Approach to Hiring for High Performance

Lou Adler’s Approach to Hiring for High Performance


Lou’s experience completely aligns with what I have learned hiring and overseeing the hiring of hundreds, if not thousands, of working professionals for highly innovative organizations.

Finding recruiters for future high performing roles

I can summarize my experience in 3 rules for effective hire of future high performance.

  1. Accept that evaluating candidates for eventual high performance is a complex skill that requires deep work experience and advanced recruiting skills on the part of the person doing the recruiting.


Your recruiters for critical hires need to have two interacting skills sets

  • The ability to interview hiring managers to prepare a hiring profile that focuses on the 5 to 7 critical ‘future’ performance metrics on the part of new hires.
  • The ability to put candidates through an evaluation process that gets them to demonstrate how they will behave to accomplish these 5 to 7 critical performances.

In my personal experience, very few recruiters for well-established roles have this combination of skill.

  1. Do not treat candidate screening as an HR activity that can be staffed early in a HR professionals’ career cycle. (This is what most established organizations do.)


Early career recruiters, although well-intentioned, do not have the work experienced or the recruiting skills needed to evaluate potential high performers. As a result, they must fall back on ‘appearance’ oriented recruiting skills and process.

Instead, hire recruiters who have deep personal work experience in a variety of roles. Among these, look for ones who have taken the time to acquire the requisite interaction skills to work effectively with hiring managers and high performing candidates.

These successful recruiters customize the hiring profile to the specific look-ahead performance requirement that high performing new hire will have to accomplish in the next 12 months. As they do so, they require hiring managers to think deeply about this. Not all hiring managers are comfortable with this.

  1. Acknowledge that high performers make the people around them feel uncomfortable. This is not because high performers do not have great interpersonal or soft skills. In fact, they often have them in spades. But in the process of doing what they do, high performers challenge and change accepted ways of doing things. They set new performance standards. They demand what has not be asked for in the past. While doing so, they make the people who have been working in the environments that high performers manage uncomfortable. The only time this is not so is when high performers create something from scratch.

The risk of not doing this

If you are recruiting for high or critical performance, performance that will make or break your upcoming business situation, you cannot go with traditional recruiting practices or traditional recruiters.

What Lou says in his Linked In article makes a great deal of sense. You and your recruiter must come to a shared understanding of the 5 to 7 key upcoming performance factors that will make or break your new hire in this demanding role.

Your recruiter must be skilled at getting ‘unusual candidates’ – people who need to do much more than deliver the average – to demonstrate how each such person will actually tackle and succeed at these critical performance factors. That takes more than talk. It means putting these people into situations where they actually have to do. It means moving them beyond their resumes and past accomplishments into talking and planning how they will address the specific requirements for this role in the future. It means having the wide business experience needed to evaluate the realism of the approaches suggested by the candidate. It means knowing that such evaluations need to be made by a number of people, not just the recruiter.

These recruiters facilitate peer-based evaluation techniques based on the Delphi approach to get the best predictions of how each final candidate will eventually perform if offered the role.

These skills are not ones taught in HR certification programs offered by colleges and universities..

Performance based recruiting is not needed for every role

Despite what Lou suggests, performance-based recruiting is not needed for every role.

If you are a senior business leader or a business owner, don’t use traditional recruiting practices to find high performers for such critical ‘make or break the future’ roles. If you want to create an ‘excellent’ organization, one of 2% of all organizations that are truly outstanding, don’t use traditional recruiters and recruiting practices. But resume based recruiting practices continue to an adequate for finding candidates for well-established roles in well-defined organizations.

When you need to hire for these critical roles, do engage a performance-based recruiter who personally has a track record of delivering above average results and wide business experience for those critical make-or-break it roles.

This person will work with you and your hiring managers to find ‘high performers you need to succeed. But remember, high performers tend to make average performers feel uncomfortable. They challenge the status quo. They go beyond the ‘good enough’. High performers are not average people. They often rub traditional hiring managers, work peers, and recruiters the wrong way, even though that is not the high performer’s intent. They are simply focused on delivering results – on performing.

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